The colder mornings are back. The summer sun — well, what we had of it — has packed its bags and left us in the dark. For many of us, the darker days and colder climate can have a huge effect on our mood.
Plenty of sunshine allows us to have a healthy intake of vitamin D — something we struggle to receive from food alone, and something which helps healthy cell and bone growth. This also enhances our energy levels and increases our resilience to physical illnesses.
However, as winter arrives, so too will seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Research has found that as many as one in three Brits display symptoms of it each year. But what exactly is it, what are the symptoms, and how can we combat it in our workplace?
Seasonal affective disorder: what is it?
Seasonal affective disorder is a depression that is caused by a lack of light. It is associated with the late autumn and winter months. This occurs when your body’s internal clock and your brain and body’s chemicals all change. Some people class it as ‘the winter blues’ and it’s most common between 18–30-year-olds. Females are also most likely to be affected, but anyone of any gender or age can suffer from the disorder.
What symptoms are associated with SAD?
Do you think you, or someone you know, is suffering from SAD? Here are some of the most common symptoms you should be aware of:
- Sleep issues — normally oversleeping and struggling to stay awake
- Being lethargic
- Loss of motivation
- Lack of interest in activities which were previously enjoyable
- Overeating — particularly carbohydrates and sweet foods
- Social issues, including withdrawal from social situations
- Increased anxiety
- A persistent low mood
- Weakened immune system
How may it be affecting us at work?
Brits love to complain about their workload and work-based environment, no matter what time of year it is. Research has found that the public misses the idea of ‘having a job for life’ and four in 10 of us feel they have a poor work/life balance. Although we do complain all-year round, we tend to take more sickness leave in the winter months. Brits have claimed to feel under the weather in two out of every five days during the winter months.
According to a study published by HR software firm CharlieHR, January has the most ‘sick days’ recorded in Britain. Staggeringly, the number of sick days recorded in the first month of the year is 53 per cent above the average of the other 11 months. The Office for National Statistics says that the main causes include coughs, colds, stress, depression, and anxiety. A lot of this could be assigned to the impact of seasonal affective disorder.
However, it’s not just sick days that can be associated with SAD. Research has found that more than half of British workers are significantly less productive during the winter months. Aspects such as darker and gloomy night making it harder to concentrate and the view from the office being less inspiring when it’s dark outside have been blamed for the lack of motivation.
How to combat SAD in the workplace
The disorder can be combatted by workforces and staff alike. Laurence Olins, former Chairman of British Fruits, previously stated that companies should provide more fruit for their workers: He said: “More employers could encourage their staff to adopt a healthier diet, providing greater access to fruit in the office to prevent people reaching for sugary confectionery, particularly in these cold winter months. Eating healthily shouldn’t feel like a chore and snacking on fruits like berries can help with food cravings during the day due to their natural sweetness.”
There is also the option to provide more supplements to employees to boost their vitamin intake. Pharma Nord’s Senior Nutritionist, Frankie Brogan, insists that supplements will improve productivity and morale: “Supplements are a great way to boost your team’s health and nutrition, which will in turn enhance their performance. By offering supplements to your colleagues, they will also benefit from the knowledge that you care for their well-being.”
In the UK, one in five of us suffer from a lack of vitamin D3 in our diet — a figure which increases when sunlight exposure drops. By upping vitamin intake, employees will benefit from the reduced risk of a faltering immune system during the winter months. “Vitamin D does an excellent job of supporting our immune systems, making supplements an important consideration,” added Brogan.
Flexible working patterns and remote working are two other great ways to help employees during the winter months. With December and January in the UK average just eight hours of day light — the same time period as the usual working day — many find themselves commuting to and from work in darkness. By offering flexible shifts or remote working, people may benefit from being able to get out when it is still light.
Be sure to look after yourself and your workforce this winter. Seasonal affective disorder can affect any of us, so have plans in place to prevent it wherever possible. If you suspect that you, or anyone you know, is affected, seek professional advice.